©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Martha S. Robinson


The rest of the afternoon was spent trying on the new clothes and becoming familiar with her new identity. Merrilee applied makeup under Aunt Emma’s skillful tutelage for a while, but she soon discovered that she could manage alone quite successfully. At first, she applied it sparingly, then more dramatically, trying out new looks, feeling like a kid in a candy store. Somewhere, during her teenaged years when young girls usually experimented with makeup and boys, Merrilee had missed out on a lot. Her father had had little time for her, and his assistants had been ill-equipped to deal with her needs. So, she’d grown up well acquainted with nature, but not with society. In fact, she knew more about animals than humans, which, her father informed her, wasn’t all that bad. Unfortunately, that had done little to make her entry into society any easier. Sometimes it seemed that all she knew about was protective coloring and how animals functioned in their natural habitats. Even the time spent with Jake hadn’t done that much for her social education, and her college years were spent in the computer lab whenever possible.

As a consequence, Merrilee hadn’t really ever come to regard herself as a woman, but as a computer expert, or an espionage partner who’d been, more often as not, disguised as a young boy. An asexual partner at that, she reflected. Except for that one night, she might well have been a boy for real. She provoked less interest, Jake had explained, and she’d always gone along with his idea.

Less interest, indeed! Thought Merrilee as she brushed on some rosy lip gloss. "If he could only see me now! She stared at her reflection in the mirror, noting the way the ‘nearly nude’ teddy clung to her figure, revealing curves she’d never really been aware of before. Oh, she’d seen her shape in the dress the night before she’d gone out to dinner with Bran, and she’d recognized the fact that she had an enviable figure when she’d gone swimming earlier in the day. It was just that in the teddy, she realized that she looked the way she was supposed to look-alluring, and to her, it came as a shock.

For a moment, she studied herself, noting the firm, high breasts, and the slender waist that gave way to nicely rounded hips. The teddy was cut very low in the front, barely restraining her breasts, with tiny, mother-of-pearl buttons that allowed it to open to her waist. The legs were cut high, almost exposing her hips. The entire piece was silk, with lace edging and insets, and unabashedly sexy. No, that wasn’t a strong enough word. Maybe seductive? Definitely!

Merrilee was still staring at her reflection, wearing only the teddy and a pair of pantyhose, when Aunt Emma walked into the room, clad in the most improbably caftan of black and silver satin trimmed with black, silver-tipped feather boas. In her wake, trailed Bran, once again dressed in a very elegant black suit, looking slightly overwhelmed by his aunt’s outfit. Merrilee grabbed a robe from the closet and slipped it on.

"I like that one," commented Aunt Emma as she surveyed the young woman. "But then, I’ve always had a weakness for sheer lingerie."

Merrilee looked down to see that she’d donned a transparent black nylon robe that was designed to excite any red-blooded male. Bran stood smiling, looking very interested in the new addition to her wardrobe.

"I like it, too." His tone indicated that h e liked what was in it even better, and his eyes never left her body, burning it from across the room.

"You would," muttered Merrilee as she turned to the closet and hastily pulled out a dress. Any dress. She marched into the bathroom where, from behind the closed door, she asked coldly, "Was there something that you wanted?"

"Just to let you know that we’ll be going to dinner again tonight." His tone implied that they might well do much more.

"Yes," Aunt Emma added. "I have a hot date tonight with an old flame." She breezed out the door, satin rustling, tossing back, "Don’t wait up for me."

Merrilee stood in the bathroom, aware of the fact that Bran was still waiting for her in the bedroom. She stood quietly, fighting with the zipper of the deep red dress which had caught in the delicate of the fabric of the teddy when she’d tried to zip it seconds ago. That’s what she got for letting him rattle her, she thought angrily as she tried to work the fastener. Unfortunately, it was caught too high up for her to skip out of it, and, short of tearing the dress or the teddy, she’d have to get help.

"Call Aunt Emma back."

"She’s already gone," Bran answered through the door. He was still playing back mental images of Merrilee in the teddy, recalling her long, shapely legs and the way the silken garment had made her look like one of his more interesting fantasies. He’d thought her sexy in the bikini, and last night had sorely tested his restraint, but right now, he was about ready to kick down the bathroom door. "What’s wrong?"

"The stupid zipper is stuck."

"I’ve heard that before."

"It was an accident," she informed him icily. Merrilee kept fiddling with the zipper, making things worse instead of better, until she was totally frustrated.

"No problem," Bran said with a grin. Thank you, Lord! "I’m good with zippers."

"Due, no doubt, to years of experience." Still, she came out of the bathroom, and turned her back to him. "Okay, expert. Fix it."

Merrilee’s was by no means the only feminine back that Bran had ever seen, but since meeting her, it was the only one on his mind. Damnation! He thought. Even her back was sexy! He reached out and touched her, taking the zipper in strangely nervous hands. She started suddenly, and then became rigid.

"Is it bad?"

"Bad," he told her, but he wasn’t thinking of the stuck zipper. "Just hold still and I think I can unstick it." He worked gently, taking care not to tear the silky skin-toned fabric of the teddy, or the deep ruby silk of the dress. He focused all his attention on the zipper, concentrating, for his fingers kept wanting to stray from the zipper to caress her skin. Fool! He cursed himself, wanting her badly enough to nearly shake with need. Did she have any idea how much he wanted to touch her? Had she worn the teddy knowing the effect it would have on him? Did she consider how the dress would make her skin glow enticingly? He gritted his teeth, determined to behave himself.

Merrilee stood still, painfully aware of his hands, and cursed her imagination and the romance novels yet another time. To be so near, so intimate, yet so impersonal was devastating to her central nervous system. Her pulses were racing, her heart was pounding, and for a second, she thought she’d faint. Then, just when she thought she could bear it no longer, she felt the slide of the zipper and the dress was closed. And, that was worse!

She stood there, frozen for a moment, when she felt his hands slide up her bare arms, over her shoulders where they gently gripped her and pulled her back to him. She arched her neck back, leaning against him, as she felt his warm lips pressed against his skin, trailing kisses to the pulse point in her throat. A strange weakness threatened her legs, and she felt the need to melt into him, As she began to give into this feeling, Bran became aware of the desire rising in her, almost to match his own raging need. But, he told himself, it was too soon. He had to be patient, to be absolutely sure that she wanted him as much as he wanted her, that she’d come to him with no reservations. So, he forced himself to stop. "Lesson two," he whispered in her ear, pulling away from her before she’d learned how truly interested he was.

Merrilee jerked around to see him, and trying to look as unlike an aroused female as possible, nodded mutely and walked out of the room. Lessons be damned, she thought savagely striding down the hallway and out to the car. If she’d wanted lessons, she’d have gone along with Melissa’s man instead of making a fool of herself on a grand scale for the good of the country. Angrily, she yanked open the car door and plopped down on the seat, slamming the door behind her. Lessons, she thought again, her anger increasing. Was she destined to be no more than a student for her entire life? Odd, just like Jake, Bran was more concerned with her innocence than he was with her physical safety.

Fuming, Merrilee wondered why neither man could understand that she could take car of herself, both physically and emotionally. Why did they seem to equate sexual inexperience with immaturity or vulnerability? Tell that to Mother Teresa or the Pope, she thought angrily. Merrilee was doing just fine, living her life as she saw fit until Bran had come along, needing her to play this wretched role. Maybe that was all that this was, just a boost to her ego, something to get her emotions temporarily engaged just so she could play her role effectively.

Emotions? Her eyes widened at that thought. Fantasies were all well and good, but when had her emotions become involved in it? Aunt Emma had asked her what she wanted Bran to feel, and at this moment, she knew. Bran was, by far, the most attractive man she’d ever met, but what she felt went beyond the physical. It was humiliating to feel something for him and to be treated like this. Not again, she vowed. Not this time. Not when she had anything to sat or do about it.

Damnitall! She was a woman, not some ignorant girl.

"A bit testy, are we?" asked Bran lightly as he sat down in the car next to her and turned on the ignition. He’d been following her from the house, watching the way her body moved, noting that she was provocative even when totally angry. Her hips swayed with a naturally sexy swing, and her perfume teased his senses. In the car, her proximity was almost more than he could bear, but he was determined to keep it light. Had he given into her desires the zipper would have gone down instead of up, and he’d be well into the last lesson in the book by now. No, he’d scared her before by moving too fast. He knew that she wanted him, and that he wanted her, but that she wasn’t ready to surrender to him. He’d wait, patiently. At least, he’d try.

Of course, this wasn’t quite the same thing that Merrilee was thinking. For one brief moment, she toyed with the idea of going blonde and having her breasts augmented, but gave that idea up as too time consuming, not to mention uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. That she wanted him was certain. That he wanted her was a reasonable assumption, but to be wanted by a man who preferred busty blondes was no great compliment. What he’d said about having been undressed by an assembly line of very busty blondes had presented itself to her in a shocking mental image, and she knew a moment of pure female rage. Damn him, anyway!! Had the man no sense of propriety?

The more she thought about him giving her lessons, the angrier she got. Lessons?? She’d show him who could give lessons. Yes, that appealed to her sense of fair play as well as to her sense of the dramatic, something that had been getting a thorough workout during the last couple of days. The man thought he’d teach her a few things? Fine. Only she’d rewrite the scenario.

Merrilee smiled craftily. She’d read enough books to know what he planned on doing, and while she was more than willing to enjoy it, she didn’t want to be considered a charity case, or a duty, some idiot who needed lessons to do what should come naturally. Oh, he’d said that she responded to him, and she did. But, apparently so did several other women! Yes, the man was badly in need of lessons himself, lessons in humility, in understanding, and other things like the appreciation of a woman’s IQ. He needed his taste in women refined, as well. Busty blondes, indeed! Aunt Emma was right after all. Bran definitely needed to be seduced by her, and in that moment, she committed herself to the cause, unwilling to question her deeper motivations. She had the uneasy feeling that she was falling in love with him, but she dared not tell him. To confess her feelings would be more than she could handle, but to show him, to teach him that she was a woman, grown, and capable of loving appealed to her. Always one more in favor of action than words, Merrilee allowed her imagination to take over, planning to merge fantasy with reality.

Bran was vaguely aware of the fact that something was bothering Merrilee, but attributed her frustration to maidenly inhibitions and embarrassment. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but even so, the idea of being the one to free her of her inhibitions, to awaken her to her true nature sounded perfectly reasonable to him, and the drive to the restaurant was spent contemplating this idea.

Merrilee was well into her own fantasy, shamelessly stealing ideas from all the books she’d read, weaving them into a tapestry that would have astonished even Chaucer, had the racy poet from the Middle Ages been privileged to read it. Romance in Rio would seem like tame stuff by the time she was finished. Unfortunately, the only word that sounded right with Phoenix was obscene, so she decided to dispense with the city and concentrate on the desert, instead. Desert Desire. Or, maybe Sated Sands.

Bran’s fantasy had gotten to the point of having Merrilee cry out his name, lost in the throes of passion, unable to help herself, yet unwilling to release him from her silken arms. He was having erotic thoughts of her quivering, pliable female form responding to his touch like a Stradivarius responded to a concert violinist. As he continued his symphony of seduction, he saw himself bringing her to such heights that she’d never desire another man, finding satisfaction in his arms alone, and remaining faithful to him. Forever.

Shocked at the way his body had reacted to his heated imagination, he didn’t even pause to consider the lasting tones that his fantasy had brought to mind. Words like forever, and faithful had never been a part of his romantic lexicon before. Never before had he wanted to hold a woman like he wanted to hold her, and never before had he wanted to see the gift of his love bring joy to a woman’s eyes. As these thoughts began to intrude on his fantasy, he pushed them aside, casting a glance at Merrilee, who was, to his relief, still involved in her own thoughts. He turned up the air conditioning to full blast, and the chilly air returned him to some state of comfort. You’re acting like a school boy, he thought distractedly. And, she’s not even your type! On this thought, they turned into the parking lot. Surrendering the keys to the attendant, both got out of the car and headed towards the restaurant.

"French," Bran pointed out to Merrilee who managed to read Chez Vous. It wasn’t exactly Maxim’s®, but she’d have to make do. After all, anybody who had roped giraffes in Africa, and had wrestled alligators in Florida was entitled to view herself as an intrepid spirit, undaunted by a fake French bistro. If it made the task at hand any easier, she’d again submit her palate to sautéed snake. With the air of a career warrior going into battle, Merrilee sailed past the maitre d’ and on to the secluded table that Bran had requested.

Once seated, she turned her attention to the man who was contemplating an intimate dinner, followed by slow dancing, to be followed by a sensual seduction. Merrilee offered an inviting smile, determined to cooperate at all costs, and when he asked what she wanted to eat, she bit back something explicit, and demurely replied, "I’ll let you order for me."

Already taking my lead, Bran thought happily, figuring that her little surge of anger had burned itself out, and that she’d be his for the taking later. His common sense suggested that she’d given in too easily, but he pushed it aside. Cheerfully, he ordered, "Suprêmes de volaille à blanc, pointes d’ aperages, e carrots etuvées au berre." He followed that with a request for a fine white burgundy and relaxed. Merrilee had no taste for asparagus, carrots, or chicken breasts, but determined to give it her all, she nodded as if he’d ordered her favorite meal.

"You look lovely tonight," Bran offered in what he knew to be his most charming voice. What was it that Louisa Somebodyorother had said about that tone? Disarming. And that had been a memorable night.

"Thank you," accepted his table partner with grace. She’d have accepted nearly anything he’d said tonight in the same manner, but she was thankful that he was making things as easy for her as possible. After all, this was her first seduction, and while she might have the best technical manuals available, there was nothing to compete with experience.

"At the risk of embarrassing you, I’d have to say that you looked very lovely tonight before you got your dress on."

Merrilee colored very nicely, both from the compliment as well as from the idea that she was planning to reveal a good bit more before the evening was over. "Thank you again. I might return the compliment to say that you looked very nice in your swimsuit this morning.

Dinner progressed very nicely, both sides exchanging compliments and sneaking sideways glances at the other. Bran was well into the second movement of his violin concerto when the waiter brought the meal, and Merrilee consumed the asparagus as though it was a gourmet feast. She lingered over the white sauce, catching his eye from time to time, and sighing meaningfully. By the time they’d finished the wine, both were interested in pursuing their separate fantasies together. So, pretending to need fresh air, Merrilee induced Bran to suggest that they leave early.

"Perhaps you’d care for a moonlight drive," offered Bran. "After all, you don’t get out here very often, and tomorrow is our last day in Phoenix. We may not have much time tomorrow night. Besides, the moon is full."

"So it is." She sighed again, and with more daring than she’d displayed so far, managed to stumble against him. He caught her in his arms, thinking how light and soft she felt, how fragrant her perfume, and how easy she would be to carry to his bed. Of course, they had to drive home first, but after being properly primed by a good meal, soft music and a moonlight drive, she should be amenable to anything he might suggest. Dancing seemed out of the question at the moment, but he dismissed that part of his plan as unnecessary. He looked over at Merrilee who gave him an almost shy smile, and for a moment, Bran wondered if he was doing the right thing. Hell! If nothing more, he was giving her some valuable experience, and heaven knew she could use it. Pushing aside a chiding voice from within that pointed out how bad that had sounded, he returned her smile.

Bran helped Merrilee into the car, gently closing the door behind her, and then walked around to the other side. He quickly slipped inside, once again grateful that he’d had the foresight to use Aunt Emma’s Lincoln with the front bench seats. No matter how sexy and sleek they looked, low slung sports cars with bucket seats were not the most conducive to lovemaking.

Lovemaking, Bran mused, for the first time, giving thought to the term. He’ d always enjoyed sex before, but he sensed that with Merrilee, it would be an entirely different experience. He’d always cared about the women he’d taken to bed before, but none of them had ever touched them quite like she did. Why, he didn’t know, and at that moment, he told himself that he didn’t really care. All he was certain of was that he wanted her like no other woman he’d ever known.

In a few minutes, they were well down the road, and without ever figuring quite how it happened, he found Merrilee sitting next to him, her thigh brushing his, and his arm around her shoulders. The car purred down the highway heading toward the house, the moonlight drive cut short by a different drive, but one that Bran was taking pains to mask.

Merrilee, on the other hand, was casually touching him, innocently, or so he thought, placing her hand on his thigh, tapping out a steady beat with her fingertips, just scant inches away from... Bran pulled the Lincoln into the driveway and gave her a gentle squeeze. "Care for a nightcap?"

She turned to look at him, lips parted, and nodded. He groaned and climbed out of the car, pulling her out to stand beside him. The moonlight turned her skin to silver, highlighting her high cheekbones, and giving tantalizing hints of her breasts which he’d been noticing all evening. He ran his hands over her shoulders again, feeling her tremble, and tilted her head back. Then, gently, as though afraid of frightening her, he kissed her.

The hard part of seducing Bran, Merrilee thought dizzily, as she followed him into the house, was getting him to think that he was doing all the work. But, it wasn’t fair. She might tease, touch, and do everything short of asking him to bed, and all he had to do was kiss her gently and she turned to mush. And then, if he followed true to form, he’d turn into a perfect gentleman and leave her wanting him worse than before. Aunt Emma was right that he liked to do the chasing, but it was going to require some real maneuvering to get him to take her to bed without realizing that he was the one being seduced. Never had she seen a man who more desperately needed to be weaned from busty blondes than Bran. Merrilee frowned, thinking that there was something wrong with that phrase, but now wasn’t the time to worry about semantics. There were more important things at hand, and she was ready to get on with them before she lost her nerve.

Merrilee had to admit that she was already nervous, wanting him, but still being afraid of...what was she afraid of? She knew instinctively that Bran wouldn’t intentionally hurt her. She knew that he’d be gentle, considerate of her pleasure, so what did she fear? Rejection, she finally decided. Not that he found her unattractive, but that he’d reject what she realized that she was really offering. Her heart. For one brief instant, she hesitated, ready to leave her fantasy just that-a fantasy.

But, at that moment, Bran turned to her, his green eyes dark with desire, and she was lost. Whatever the risks, whatever the rejection, she had to know him just this once. Her heart in her eyes, she looked back at him, willing him to want her as she wanted him. Not because of anything Aunt Emma had said, not because she wanted to learn and knew that he’d be a good teacher. She wanted him...because she loved him. It was an astonishing revelation, but she knew deeply, surely. It didn’t bother her that she’d only known him a short time. She trusted her instincts, instincts that were beginning to take over with surprising speed.

Wondering how he was going to get into her bedroom, Bran became very quiet. He wasn’t in the habit of taking women to bed under his great-aunt’s roof, but this was a very special circumstance. Besides, she’d asked Merrilee to seduce him, hadn’t she? He’d be doing what she’d wanted, wouldn’t he? The more he thought about it, the more reasonable it sounded, and by the time he’d poured them drinks, he had decided that he owed it to Merrilee and Aunt Emma to make love to Merrilee. After all, what were good friends for? And, if you couldn’t depend on your family, who could you depend on?

Ignoring the small voice that was telling him why he really wanted her, he continued to mull over his plans. By the time he had talked himself into the idea that he was doing the right thing, indeed, the only decent thing, Merrilee was considering taking drastic measures. For a moment, both of them stared deeply into each other’s eyes, and the next second, they were locked in an embrace that would have done justice to the most romantic scene ever written. Then, remembering his plan to sweep her off her feet, Bran lifted Merrilee into his arms and carried her down the hallway and into her room.